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School Law and Higher Education

Charla M. Claypool, Esquire

Director of school district Parents as Teachers (PAT) program engaged in activities constituting "immoral conduct" such that her dismissal was permitted under Missouri statute permitting termination of indefinite contract with a tenured teacher based upon such grounds. Lynda Homa v. Carthage IX School District, No. 30502 (Mo. App. S.D., May 4, 2011), Francis, Jr., J.

Appellant was employed as a tenured teacher in the Carthage R-IX School District ("the District") and served as the director of the PAT program. As director of the PAT program, Appellant was responsible for supervision of PAT employees, including evaluating and disciplining the program's employees. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ("DESE") requires that each district maintain specific records of visits with parents participating in the PAT program and personal visits by PAT educators when the child will not be present must be approved by DESE. In September 2007, Appellant permitted a PAT educator to visit a former participant in the PAT program who was incarcerated (pending deportation due to her undocumented immigrant status) but did not call DESE to get prior approval even though Appellant knew that the child would not be present. Appellant did not require the educator to submit a report of her visit. It was later alleged that during the meeting, the PAT educator improperly pressured the incarcerated parent to put her child up for adoption, which triggered an investigation and subsequent public hearing by the District to consider charges against Appellant. The District found that the Appellant had engaged in immoral conduct and the District's Board of Education unanimously voted to terminate Appellant's employment pursuant to Section 168.114, RSMo, which permits termination of an indefinite contract with a permanent teacher if the teacher is engaged in immoral conduct. On September 10, 2009, Appellant filed a "Petition for Review under Chapter 536, RSMo" in the Circuit Court of Jasper County. The trial court issued a judgment affirming the decision of the District Board of Education. Appellant appealed the trial court decision alleging, in relevant part, that court erred in affirming the District's termination of Appellant's employment for "immoral conduct" because the Appellant's conduct did not constitute immoral conduct as a matter of law.

Held: Affirmed. The court found that the record established that Appellant's conduct constituted "immoral conduct" as a matter of law. The court noted that under applicable case law, a teacher has engaged in "immoral conduct" under Section 168.114, RSMo if he or she has engaged in behavior sufficiently contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals, or involving baseness, vileness or depravity so as to support the inference that the teacher consciously comprehended the wrongful nature of the conduct. The court held that Appellant's conduct in not seeking pre-visit approval from DESE, not sending any PAT-related developmental materials with the visiting educator, not requiring a report of the visit and concealing the educator's purposes for visiting the jail demonstrate that she knew that the visit was unacceptable under the PAT program and, further, by failing to ensure that the DESE was reimbursed for costs associated with the unauthorized visit, Appellant engaged in the misuse of District funds. The court held that these actions and inactions constituted immoral conduct under applicable law.

The Missouri Bar Courts Bulletin, 11-Jul